By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
THIS IS THE FIRST installment of six daily articles on each of the Tupelo
City Council races running today through Saturday in order of ward number.
TUPELO – Jeff Ware had just finished mowing his yard and spending time outdoors with his family in the Oak Meadows neighborhood when he was asked about the upcoming election.
While he and his wife, Cheryl, haven’t put a lot of time into which candidate for Ward 1 on the Tupelo City Council will get their vote, he has the criteria in mind.
“Just like any other level of government, you vote for the one who is the best leader,” he said. “You vote for who can improve the school system, lower taxes, improve streets and being friendly to business.”
When Ward 1 residents in the northwest part of the city vote in the Republican primary on May 7, they will decide if their next representative on the City Council will be one-term incumbent Markel Whittington, 63, or challenger Daniel Owens, 35.
While both candidates own businesses and consider themselves conservative, they have differences relevant to the election.
Whittington, an office furniture salesman and business owner, moved to Tupelo nearly four decades ago to open McRae’s department store. He has been involved with several small businesses and believes his background helps bring fiscal conservatism and common sense to local government.
“We need good business people on the council who know how to balance a budget,” he said recently.
Whittington said city government needs to keep taxes low and improve its approach when interacting with citizens and businesses. In short, he summarizes his political philosophy as wanting to ensure the community is safe, fiscally sound and somewhere people want to live and work.
His opponent, Owens, moved to Tupelo six years ago and works as a sergeant with the Tupelo Fire Department and owns the children-oriented Jump Tupelo. He said he would bring a younger perspective to city government and also would have a better understanding of city employees.
“I’m not a politician,” Owens said. “I’m a public servant in just another role.”
During the current term, Whittington said he wanted to reduce the number of sick days city workers can have to 90 to limit the amount of money the city pays in benefits. Currently, Tupelo and other municipal and state employees can accumulate the sick leave and cash it out when they retire or retire early.
Owens disagrees, saying capping sick days could lead to city employees having to go to work sick.
“If limits are set then you are taking away from city employees that are putting the city first,” he said.
While both men list as goals improving the Tupelo Public School District and would have a vote in appointing school board members, Owens’ son attends the private Tupelo Christian Preparatory School. He said this wouldn’t create any type of credibility concern while discussing public school matters.
“I don’t have anything against the Tupelo public school system,” Owens said. “They just don’t teach Bible classes.”
For Whittington, a key concern is ensuring school board members and city government leaders communicate to ensure that goals overlap.
A key issue since the 2010 Census revealed less population growth compared to smaller communities surrounding Tupelo. Improving blighted and decaying parts of older neighborhoods is important to both candidates.
Whittington sees improving neighborhoods as a key factor to also improving the school district.
“The school system is strictly a product of our neighborhoods,” he said.
A difference between the two candidates is that Owens opposed Whittington’s recent support to allow Carlock Toyota in the Barnes Crossing shopping area to install sign more than twice as large as city ordinances allow.
“I wouldn’t have voted for the sign,” Owens said. “Nobody wants to see that.”
MARKEL WHITTINGTON, R (INCUMBENT)
Contact info: Markel.firstname.lastname@example.org (662) 871-0568
Family: Married with two sons
Education: Mississippi College, business degree
Occupation: Office Furniture Sales
Community activities: First United Methodist Church, Rotary, Boy Scouts, CDF
DANIEL OWENS, R
Contact info: Daniel@votedanielowens.com (662) 842-5774 (662) 401-4071
Family: Married with one daughter, one son
Education: Delta State University, University of Mississippi
Occupation: Sergeant with Tupelo Fire Department (which I will leave once elected); business owner, Jump Tupelo Community activities: Calvary Baptist Church, committee member; Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Red Cross volunteer.
Ward 1 Q&A
1.What relevant experience and personal qualifications would you bring to the Tupelo City Council?
I have an 18 year background in public service at the city, county and state levels. I am a business owner who knows how to set goals and meet them. I am a parent of school-aged children. I enjoy meeting and greeting the public and have leadership experience as an instructor at the Mississippi State Fire Academy and a Sargent with the Tupelo Fire Department.
Small business owner for 30-plus years. I have been very active in community affairs and served on several boards.
2. Name the top three goals/projects that you will pursue if elected.
OWENS: 1. I want to strive to ensure that the Tupelo City Schools excel academically and provide the safest environment for every single student. 2. Help make Tupelo a quality life experience for all of its citizens. 3. Encourage new projects for safety and quality of life such as bike paths, green spaces and especially a new walking/bike path along North Gloster to the Barnes Crossing Mall.
WHITTINGTON: 1. Solvency to make sure we manage Tupelo to an operating budget that is balanced. 2. Improve infrastructure of Tupelo to
include neighborhood improvement 3. Work to improve Tupelo Public
3. The 2010 Census showed stalled population growth and median income in Tupelo compared to northern suburbs. How should city government help retain and recruit middle-class residents?
There are already initiatives dealing with schools and neighborhoods. Quality housing levels should be addressed. People will move to where the schools are good and quality jobs are available. Tupelo should continue to improve the aesthetics of all areas. Attention should be paid to enforcing codes, zoning, signage and care of public and private property.
We will continue to improve the quality of life and the livability of the city to include incentives to attract families to Tupelo.
4.Tupelo has begun taxpayer-funded neighborhood redevelopment initiatives. Do you support continued action and expansion of these projects?
Yes I do support these projects and with expanding them, but we need to
have a plan that our citizens support and have a say as to what is done.
Bringing in consultants from other areas is not always reliable for knowing what works in Tupelo. Care should be taken to use the funds efficiently and with a plan supported by our citizens.
Neighborhood redevelopment has to be a public and private partnership – the city can’t get into the Real Estate business but we can offer incentives for development by the private sector.